Paying for College

Do you find the thought of paying for college overwhelming? Does navigating the financial aid process seem daunting to you? You’re not alone! This section will provide you with tips on maximizing your college dollars and demystify the financial aid process, so you can get more bang for your buck!

Financial Aid is designed to help students and families fund a college education. While it may not cover all costs, financial aid can drastically reduce out-of-pocket educational expenses. Students may qualify for grants, work-study, and student loans.

To apply for federal and state aid you need to file a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) at Every. Year. Undocumented students in California may apply for state aid by filing the California Dream Act Application (CADAA) at Every. Year. Sac State School Code: 001150

The FAFSA and CADAA applications are available October 1st, for the following academic year, and since the 2018-2019 applications require 2016 income information, there is no reason not to do it right now!

Scholarships aren’t just for the star athletes and valedictorians! There are scholarship opportunities for everyone. But, you can’t get a scholarship, if you don’t apply!

Apply for Sac State institutional scholarships at Be sure to check out other scholarship databases like FastWeb, Scholly, and Unigo for additional scholarships!

Search for opportunities based on your interests, heritage, or unique characteristics! Need a break from the boring, typical scholarship applications? Check out these Weird Scholarships from Unigo!

Bonus Tip: You should never pay to apply for financial aid or scholarships. If you come across an opportunity that asks for a credit card number or payment, get out quick! It’s probably a scam.

Financial aid is confusing! Grants, scholarships, federal loans, private loans, oh my! Use the guide below to help decode your financial aid award:

  • Grants – Grants = Free Money, as long as you do your part. Stay enrolled and pass your classes.
  • Scholarships-are applied for separately from a FAFSA or CADAA. A scholarship may require you to submit additional information such as transcripts or an essay. The scholarship donor determines the criteria required to earn their scholarship. Scholarship funds are free money and do not need to be repaid.
  • Direct Subsidized and Unsubsidized Loans*- Direct loans are low fixed-interest rate student loans, funded by the federal government. These loans are not credit based and do not require you to begin repayment while you are still in school, as long as you are attending at least halftime. 
    • Subsidized Loans are awarded to students with financial need. Interest begins to accrue six months after graduation, or if your enrollment drops below half-time status. Check out the next section to see why Subsidized Loans are super!
    • Unsubsidized Loans are awarded based on the cost of attendance and other aid received. Interest begins to accrue immediately and throughout the life of the loan.
  • Direct PLUS Loans* – PLUS loans are credit-based federal loans for parents of dependent undergraduate students and for students seeking a graduate or professional degree. To qualify you must not have an adverse credit history.

    Although PLUS loans may be listed on your Student Center, To Do List as an option, this is the one item on your To Do List that you are not required to do. Only complete the PLUS Loan Request form if you intend to borrow a PLUS loan.

    The interest rate on PLUS loans is higher than Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans.

  • Federal Work Study (FWS) FWS provides part-time employment, both on and off campus. FWS Students are eligible to work up to 20 hours per week and receive a monthly paycheck. Check out Sac State’s Career Connection for work-study opportunities.
  • Private Loans* are typically funded by banks or credit unions. Interest rates on private loans may be variable and fluctuate significantly based on the applicant’s credit history. Students without a credit history or poor credit will borrow at a higher interest rate. Taking out a private loan is almost always more expensive than borrowing a federal student loan. Some banks charge as much as 18% interest! And….interest begins to accrue while you are still in school!

* Loans must be repaid even if you don’t finish the semester or your academic program.

Now that you have a quick guide to the different types of aid, there is still a little more you need to know.  While Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans sound similar, if offered both, the Subsidized loan is actually more beneficial for you to borrow. It is a “Super Loan”. Really! (hint- easy to remember since both super and subsidized start with an “S”).

Why is the Subsidized Loan a super loan? The government pays your interest while you are in school. You are not responsible for any interest until 6 months after you graduate or drop below part-time status. You get to borrow money for free, while you are in school!

Check your meter… your Financial Aid meter, to make sure you have enough financial aid to last until your expected graduation date. You can access your Financial Aid Meter through your Student Center, under the Finances section. Once your financial aid application has been processed, the meter will display information about the aid you have received and will project your remaining aid eligibility.

Graduating on time = paying less for your education! To help you reach your graduation goal, map out your schedule with a semester-by-semester roadmap, utilizing the Smart Planner tool, part of the Keys to Degree Toolbox, on your Student Center. Visit your My Sac State to get started.

Earning a college education increases your career options, potential income, and quality of life. However, the last thing you need is a hefty student loan payment after graduation. Borrow less by budgeting and saving while in school. Your small sacrifices will pay off in the long run!

Build a budget using a smartphone app like Mint. For bonus tips on saving money as a college student, check out our money saving links, under Tips and Tools.

Now that you’ve completed a budget for the academic year (you have, right???), you are aware of the amount of aid you need to accept to cover the balance of your educational expenses.  If offered grants and loans, accept all grants (free money) first, then the Subsidized and Unsubsidized loans, in that order.

When you accept a Subsidized or Unsubsidized Loan a box will appear next to the amount offered. This enables you to input a lesser amount than the amount offered. Since loans must be repaid, borrow only what you need! It is the best way to end up in the least amount of debt possible.

Worried that you may not have borrowed quite enough? No problem!  Just go to Sac State’s Financial Aid and Scholarships page and complete a Change in Aid form to get additional funds.

You can borrow up to the balance of your award for the academic year. But, remember to be a smart borrower and don’t borrow more than you need!

It's better to be a broke student than a broke college graduate. Loan payments can add up fast, especially if you plan to go on for a graduate or professional degree! Check out the chart below to see the difference in loan payments for an undergrad who just borrowed what she needed and one who has maxed out all loans!

Smart Borrower Maxed Out
Loan Amount: $15,000 $57,500
Interest Rate: 4.45% 4.45%
Total Interest: $3,611.45 $13,844.19
Loan Term: 10 years 10 years
Monthly Payments: $155.10 $594.54

Each dollar that you have to pay back towards your student loans is a dollar that you may want to put towards a new car, a house or a family. Being a disciplined borrower now will pay off in the future!

Small Sacrifices = Big Payoffs

Get a part-time job while in school to earn extra cash, and boost your resume. There are many options on campus alone. Check out the Hornet Career Connection , Associated Students Inc.  and University Enterprises, Inc.  for available positions.

Or consider getting a job through Federal Work-Study. Hours are flexible and you receive a regular monthly paycheck. For more information about Federal Work-Study at Sac State, visit .

Having a job allows you to network, gain valuable skills, and prepare for a career after graduation.

Think about it—the more classes you take, the more money you pay! Get on track to graduate in four years (or two for transfer students). See your Academic Advisor at least once per year for assistance with general education and major requirements. Utilize free tools like Smart Planner to finish on time!

For more information about how to Finish in Four (or Through in Two for transfer students), visit